Thorpedo hits the target again
Athens 2004 was to be Ian Thorpe's final Olympic Games. The Australian swimmer who had grabbed so many global headlines in Sydney four years earlier was still just 21, and remained a force to be reckoned with, but the spotlight had now moved on to Michael Phelps.
Nonetheless the “Thorpedo” was entered into five events in Greece – three individual freestyle races and two relays. Despite being the world record holder in the 400m, he was a touch lucky to have earned his spot in that event after being disqualified from the Australian trials for overbalancing on his blocks. In the end he only got his place when team-mate Craig Stevens withdrew to concentrate on the 1,500m, clearing the way for Thorpe.
And Thorpe had an early chance to show that he deserved his place, as the 400m was the first race of his programme in Athens. He qualified second fastest for the final, just behind the time set by his Australian team-mate and great rival, Grant Hackett. The contest for gold looked set to be a duel between the two, and so it proved.
Hackett was the last man to have beaten Thorpe over 400m, but that had been seven years earlier when they were both teenagers. Thorpe took the early lead before being passed, surprisingly, by the American Klete Keller at the 150m mark. Thorpe's response was to up the tempo slightly and he regained the lead 50m later, with Hackett now close behind, replacing Keller as his nearest challenger. The two Australians stayed in close company to the end, but it was Thorpe who touched just 0.26 seconds clear to retain his title.
The 200m final was even more competitive, with a field that included the four fastest men in history: Thorpe, Hackett, Michael Phelps and the Netherlands' Pieter van den Hoogenband, who was the reigning Olympic champion.
Just as in Sydney four years earlier, van den Hoogenband took the lead with Thorpe just behind. However this time the Australian bided his time before putting on a surge of speed at the end to pull away and touch the wall in 1 minute 44.71 seconds, a new Olympic record.
It was to prove Thorpe's final Olympic victory. He took a bronze in the 100m freestyle, and a silver in the 4x200m relay to finish his Olympic career with five golds, three silvers and a bronze. This impressive tally of nine medals from 10 races over the course of two Games earned him a place in the Olympic pantheon as one of the true swimming greats.